Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Curse of Peladon

10 Jan 2008, 9:49 am

Lets see if I can do more than one story in a year for 2008, eh?

Curse of Peladon 1

I’m not a big fan of movie remakes. The problem is a fairly obvious one – if something’s a recognised classic as it is, what can you gain from remaking it? If it’s rubbish, why would you want to? There’s an argument that remaking a black and white film in colour (heck remaking any significantly old film) can work as a means of making the film more accessible to a modern audience, but then you’re basically pitching the film to morons who can’t quite cope with the idea of monochrome. (To be fair, it’s not that much further than remaking foreign films in English, which I find more acceptable, oddly – though that might have something to do with the fact that by and large the remakes in those cases come out okay). Even worse is remaking reasonably recent English films with American actors – The Long Good Friday set in America? Get out.

The only time remakes work for me is when the remake is intended to say something new. It’s like a song cover – ideally you don’t want another version with the same feel, you want something different, like the way the Stranglers turn the formerly heartbreakingly sad Dionne Warwick Bacharach and David song Walk on By into a bitter snarl of rejected fury. It’s rare in film, where they just tend to want to nick a good idea, but it’s noticeable that the remakes that do work tend to take a different take on the material (The two versions of the Fly, for example, one pulpy fun, the other grotesque body horror). Most noticeably, the almost remake proof Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which managed two decent covers (before this years critically derided Craig/Kidman take) simply by virtue of letting the story reflect the paranoia of each specific time.

The reason I mention this in relation to Curse, is because I can’t help but feel this is one of the few old Doctor Who stories that could easily stand a remake today. Famously metaphorical in its day, with it’s UN based overtones, it’s interesting to see that viewed in the cold light of 2007 everything shifts. It now appears less about countries growing up and joining the world stage, as a debate on ignorance versus superstition. In this age of religious based terrorism, it’s hard to see Hepesh as anything other than a dangerous fundamentalist. He’s killing people because of his beliefs, not because of anything remotely resembling fact. (Apologies if you read this unaware of his villainous ways – but it’s pretty comprehensively blown at the end of the episode, so you should have been paying more attention to the episode anyway). Furthermore, the opening scenes explicitly reveal conflict between church and state (in the form of high priest and chancellor), both battling over the crown.

As a result, a modern remake would pitch this story at a slightly different level, and be saying a subtly different thing. Of course, whether it would need to be remade to do this is another point, seeing as the original pulls it off anyway.

It achieves this by virtue of being a very nicely written piece. The episode is jam packed with concepts and characters, and each gets swiftly delineated. Everyone’s properly real and interesting already, which is rare. It’s this depth of characterisation and world building that enables it to reflect our own (and I’d guess the conscious reflections are partly why it’s able to have such a detailed world in the first place). It’s all slightly let down by the sets, if I’m honest, which are nowhere near as grand as the script wants them to be. It’s all a little… well, close, I suppose. All a little too small for a royal palace – most noticeably with the throne which gets this huge reverence and yet looks like a bit of lawn furniture.

There are minor level problems – the Ice Warrior shift is a gloriously unique idea, great at wrongfooting the audience and keeping them intrigued (and wondering if it’s a double bluff) – but at the moment it feels like an addenda to the plot rather than a strong and vital part of it. Their first appearance is almost a throwaway, rather than impactful, and they’re left with little to do in the episode itself. Still, early days, and I hope it’ll balance out a bit in the remaining three. More of a problem is the fact that in order to concentrate on establishing the planet and the myriad aliens, the Doctor and Jo are shunted aside into a fairly implausible mountaineering subplot that gets tidied up with unconvincing haste when the plot needs the Doctor to appear. Though again, parts of that look to be being saved for later, so I’ll give it a chance. And to be honest, it’s so minor that it doesn’t detract from the excellent scripting and performance elsewhere.

So very good. Just time to mention my favourite daft bit, though. Grun manages to tell everyone that Aggedor’s around by pointing vaguely in the direction of the tiniest representation of the beast in the entire citadel. Everyone else manages to psychically know what he’s on about. Hilarious.

#653 10 Jan 2008, 11:45 am

Curse of Peladon 2

If there was one thing I always had a problem with in English Literature classes at school, it was discussion of themes. Every book we'd talk or write about, it was always the central question. What's it about? What's its theme?

Now I can talk and argue about themes all day if you want. About my contention that any worthwhile theme has to be a nebulous thing (I prefer stories where the answer is a lot of vague words - 'love, loss, memory' that sort of thing, and not something you can sum up in a direct sentence). But the problem I've always had is how well the people writing the stories actually know what the hell it's about. Because we can say 'this is a story about X', but the writer might turn around and say 'sod off, it's got nothing to do with X, I can't stand X, it's clearly about Y'.

I bring this up because Curse of Peladon seems, to my eye, to have themes. But I'm not entirely convinced Brian Hayles genuinely knows what he's doing.

You see, one of the problems with reviewing a lot of old stories is hindsight. I know who the villain is. I know what they want, and so on. But it strikes me watching this story that sometimes that actually helps. If you have a twist that's delivered weakly, you don't necessarily notice it because you already know that twists coming.

Take the Ice Warriors in this story. We know they're the goodies. And you find yourself thinking 'but it must have been a shock when you first saw it'. And you know something? I don't think it is. You never really get led down the road of believing the Ice Warriors are doing anything wrong. From the end of episode one, it's made explicit that Hepesh is behind the attacks. Now, there may have been a throwaway bit I missed saying 'our alien ally' or something (which makes most of this redundant if there is) but what's the point of that.

One reason could be the theme. Cos it seems to me that this is a story all about prejudice. The Doctor immediately thinks the Ice Warriors are behind it because of prejudice (to be fair, he's given some leading and obvious clues towards them, but he's clearly distrustful of them already). Likewise the Ice Warriors are clearly prejudicial against humans. And finally, Hepesh himself is the very definition of prejudice.

The only problem with this is that making the Ice Warriors innocence blatant isn't a vital component of exploring that at all. In fact, keeping them suspicious and then revealing it would give the message more weight, because the audience would also be prejudicial towards them. All it would require is a line like the one I mentioned earlier - Hepesh implying one of the aliens is an ally.

A further thought I had was that maybe it was to avoid making them too suspicious. You know what I mean. In a whodunnit there's often a character who has 'I'm an evil guilty bastard who likes to kill people' branded on their forehead. (There's a particularly hilarious example of this in the Mousetrap. A swarthy foreigner - always untrustworthy in Christie - enters and spends the entire play talking in phrases like 'Ah, this is a good night for it. A very good night for it indeed.' He's not the killer, and, of course, nobody ever explains why he talks like that, or why he wanders around acting as suspiciously as he can.) And you know it can't be them (if it is, it's incredibly disappointing. Trust me. I've seen it happen - an episode of Lovejoy, if you're interested. Oh, the shame). So maybe Hayles felt that having a whodunnit with the Ice Warriors in it wouldn't exactly work. But again, there's a way round this. Focus on proving they did it, not on the question of whether they're guilty or not.

That's not to say what we have isn't interesting (structurally, it reminds me of Glengarry Glen Ross - yes, I know I'm going a bit mad with cross cultural references this time, but bear with me - basically a whodunnit, resolved with the cheapest trick available, that you don't realise is a whodunnit because you think you already know who actually did dun it, when you don't), just that I'm not sure how much of it has been thought through. It leaves the episode a curious lack of tension, as most of the script is about the Doctor and Jo trying to prove something we, the audience, already know isn't true. As a result, it does descend into a series of capture/escapes (there's blatant padding with Jo's abortive escape, the Arcturus attack, and the way every one goes straight back into the throne room to restart the debate they aborted in order to have the cliffhanger straight away the moment that's done - oh, and whilst we're at it, how the hell does Jo know about the secret passage behind the throne?) which is sort of a shame. I don't doubt it wouldn't anyway, but there'd be more a sense of threat, of mystery, of the story going somewhere rather than filling in time. I mean, why should we be worried when Jo gets trapped in the Ice Warriors room?

That's not to say there isn't a lot to like here. The guest cast are excellent to a man, the alien design is great (and whilst the story doesn't really give the impression of an entire world, the design and odd haircuts do at least go some way to identifying it all as something other than Earth). It's good enjoyable fun. I just feel it's good enjoyable fun by accident, rather than design.

#654 10 Jan 2008, 12:12 pm

2Originally Posted by Dorney
"Famously metaphorical in its day, with it’s UN based overtones, it’s interesting to see that viewed in the cold light of 2007 everything shifts. "

I thought it was inspired by Britain (finally) being allowed to enter the Common Market?

#655 10 Jan 2008, 1:38 pm

Originally Posted by AlMiles
"I thought it was inspired by Britain (finally) being allowed to enter the Common Market? "

Very possibly - history ain't my strongest point!

#656 16 Jan 2008, 2:14 pm

Originally Posted by Dorney
"Want the other piece of evidence that suggests Wheel has to take place after Moonbase. Look at the photo sequence when the Cybermen are trying to identify who knows them. They recognise the Doctor, so one Cyber-story has to take place before this one. Now, I know what you're thinking. It could be The Invasion. But if this group of Cybermen are affiliated to that group, they recognise Zoe. And they don't. So they have to know him from the Moonbase. "

I've just watched this; but saw "The Invasion" DVD when it came out. In that story, the Cybermen recognise the Doctor from an unseen adventure on "Planet 14". It's possible these Wheel Cybermen saw him at the same time/place.

I prefer "Wheel" before Moonbase not only because the humans in Moonbase have been taught about the Cybermen (and those in Wheel haven't) but also because the technology is much clunkier in Wheel (note the bulky spacesuits compared to Moonbase) - and the Cybermen in Wheel look like a halfway house between those in The Invasion and their sleeker design in Moonbase and Tomb.

#657 24 Jan 2008, 11:09 pm

Curse of Peladon 3

You know something odd? In a long long time of wading through stories, this episode presents me with something unique. So many third episodes are the padding episodes. Where they've run out of plot. Usually they're nothing but capture/escape scenarios over and over again, pretending to be meaningful plot advancement. Weirdly, it seems to me that Curse 3 is actually a bit of meaningful plot advancement that pretends to be nothing but capture/escape.

I can sense your incredulity, but go with me on this. You see, at first glance this episode would appear to be the epitome of padding. The end of episode two is the Doctor being sentenced to death, altered to trial by combat in the initial moments of this part, and the last five minutes of the episode are taken up with that very trial by combat. So the trap is to think that this episode is mainly filling in time before concluding with the Doctor in basically the same position he was twenty five minutes ago. And that’s just not true.

This episode is the most plot advancing we’ve had so far. The problem is the show format. We’ve already seen that the end of episode one cliffhanger is arbitrary at best, and it seems to me that it’s the same with episode two, though it’s disguised better. This episode is entirely about the Doctor roving free to investigate the plot – it’s only the necessity of having the story interrupted by cliffhangers every twenty five minutes that means the story has to contrive a way to get him in jeopardy either side of this. Hence the Doctor’s random visitor to the temple, and the contrived law that sentences him.

Compare with Hepesh helping the Doctor to escape with a map of the catacombs. It looks like a simple escape diversion to fill in time. But that’s ignoring what happens when he’s in those tunnels. The Doctor finds Aggedor, and starts to investigate the beast. It’s a scene that needs to be in the story. In most bog standard capture/escape formats, the capture is the important part, and the escape is used to postpone the resolution of that capture. Here the capture is the distraction, the escape is the plot.

There are further examples. Hepesh’s visit to the cell is entirely about explaining the villain’s motives, and emphasising he has help. Both vital plot points. But again, because of the structure, it looks like it’s just another scene postponing the climactic fight. It’s a shame, cos it’s also a cracking bit of character work.

There’s a lot of that in the episode, and in most cases it’s riffing of the situation. Peladon’s attempted proposal to Jo gives a lot of depth and complexity to the character, but it’s the actions of Izlyr that offer the most interesting rewards. It’s with this episode that we do get a real confirmation that the Ice Warriors are goodies, and a sense of their fan beloved code of honour.

It’s not a perfect episode though. The structure is all over the shop, and some of the plotting a little off. Hepesh admits to having help approximately one episode too late, and with the mystery preserved for about five minutes before Arcturus behaves suspiciously. And the cliffhanger itself is hideously botched, with it being broadly speaking incomprehensible (literally in some cases – it took me ages to figure out what Alpha Centauri was saying). And when you do get it, it’s a little too clear. It’s clearly scripted for a Mind of Evil 5, who’s shooting who vibe – but ultimately, it’s all pitched a little too directly, so you can tell the Ice Warriors aren’t shooting at the Doctor (that’s if you really have the time to register it’s the Ice Warriors shooting at all!). And there are other weird moments – Hepesh blatantly cheats in the fight by dropping Grun a sword, but no one seems to complain.

Generally though, it’s good fun, and the ending with the big fight is worth the build up and enjoyable.

#658 10 Feb 2008, 2:15 pm

Originally Posted by supervoc
"It’s taken me a while to read through your review of the War Games, so I am going to backtrack a bit and offer some comments.

The ‘German sniper’ bit at the start of episode two is a bit oblique. The OG guide is completely wrong in this respect.

There are quite a few differences in the tv version. Ransom just shouts “Sniper!” The sniper is in the grounds of the chateau HQ and is actually firing from a barn and not from the trees.

The sniper is actually a confederate soldier from the American Civil War Zone, you can see the crossed swords on his hat (the restored DVD will be perfect like the Mind Robber, these grabs are from the recent WH Smith version).

I would also add that the music is usually greatly underrated. The constant barrage with gunfire in the background of episodes one and two in particular, is excellent. If you are listening on headphones it really does provide a great atmosphere that is much better than most war movies. It is jarring when it suddenly stops, as Jamie noted at the end of episode 2 when they entered the Roman zone. An excellent piece of sound design that few people ever notice, perhaps one of the best in the series, and not least for its subtlety.

The American soldier seems to be using a flintlock rifle, too - is this the best the Resistance could manage? Is it contemporary with the American Civil War?"

Also, though not mentioned in Dorney's review, my viewing last week reminded me of the lovely strange "warbling" background noise in the War Lord base/science area, and the War Room (control room) sounds which exude menace and power. Did Brian Hodgson do the sound for this story? It's superb at creating the feel of an advanced, otherworldly scientific base.

I'm up to "Doctor Who And The Silurians" now - I've been watching from Serial A since last July. Soon be caught up!


#659 10 Feb 2008, 5:09 pm

I already mentioned that the sniper was a Confederate soldier...

#660 18 Feb 2008, 12:24 pm

Curse of Peladon 4:

I'm a bit unsure about this episode.

First off, it feels like one of those David Fisher scripts where he pretty much resolves everything three episodes in and has to fill the remaining episode with a brand new plot. However, this is a fairly superficial resemblance. Yes, the episode starts with the death of Arcturus and the unravelling of the scheme, leading to Hepesh having to take a new tack - but this ignores the fact that the previous three episodes haven't really been about Arcturus. Hepesh has been the lead villain throughout, so the plot has to follow him - the linked scheming of Arcturus is incidental in the most literal sense - it feels like a pointless afterthought designed to get a bit of mystery and a cliffhanger, rather than a well layered part of the plot.

The problem is that whilst the story is correct to focus on the high priest's next move, it can't really figure out what that next move is. There's talk of a political solution (with Hepesh claiming the Ice Warriors assassinated Arcturus) which is interesting - but nothing really comes of it. As it is, Hepesh just gets a lot of soldiers together and raids the throne room. It's a little blunt.

And that's a shame, because if you skip the flimsiness of the plot in this episode, there's some really nice stuff. The Doctor gets a daft expository speech at the beginning (filled with lots of detail he really can't know), and buried away in there is a detail that's a little lost - the Doctor says that Hepesh still believes what Arcturus told him. Brushing aside the fact that, as I say, the Doctor has no way of knowing what happened between them, this is a really interesting point, and it's a shame it doesn't get more treatment in the story (where it could have replaced the fairly lukewarm whodunnit plot). Because looked at that way, what we have is a fairly major scale tragedy - we have a Who equivalent of Othello, in plotting at least if not in stature. Hepesh becomes less an irrational figure, blinded by prejudice, but more a relatively rational man blinded by lies - the famous fatal flaw, and said flaws are always more tragical when the figure has the best of intentions (hence why Macbeth, whilst listed as a tragedy, never feels as tragic as Lear or Othello - because Macbeth seems like a murderous nutter all the time). Arcturus has an ulterior motive, mineral wealth, and manipulates a naive man to get it. It's such a rich concept you wonder why nothing's really done with it. You do get faint echoes of it in the dying words of Hepesh, but generally the tragical overtones are ignored in favour of standard monster runaround #1.

There are other great bits though. The ultimate fate of Hepesh, gored by Aggedor, is a great instance of just deserts. The Ice Warriors menacing Alpha Centauri into voting is lovely (though, as with a lot of the stuff in this episode, said vote never goes anywhere). And finally, the long sequence rounding off the story is a decent bit of character work, particularly the Peladon/Jo scene, which is genuinely quite touching (and rather nicely acted by both participants).

So all in all, a fun piece, but not quite the sum of its parts, not quite the story it could have been. But a pleasing diversion, nonetheless.

No comments:

Post a Comment